Angus MacPhail: the enduring fascination of boats

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Boats carry an energy that transcends their material parts and also carry strong associations with the people who owned them and travelled or worked the oceans aboard them.

A recent voyage I helped with, marking the sad end of an era for those on board, brought to mind a poem I wrote not long after my father passed away.

Given my upbringing, I may have a slanted perception of the extent to which a boat can hold such strong presence and links to people but, for me, a boat encapsulates a magic and powerful bond that can’t be matched by any other material entity.

Of the many recurring dreams I have had over the years, one of the most common themes that visits me is that relating the boats my father owned – including ones I have no actual memory of other that stories told of them. Of the boats named in the poem below, only one – the Moher Maid, which became the Skipinnis Maid when dad bought her -may still exist.

In recent years, I have made various inquiries to track this boat’s whereabouts but the trail has become broken after it was sold to a fisherman in Ireland in 1999.

Fittingly, however, one of the team from Redbay Boats, whom we met in
Campbeltown last Saturday as part of the voyage mentioned above, is confident that through his connections round the Irish fishing community, he will be able to trace the Skipinnis Maid and find out where she is – if indeed she is still in existence.

The words below are as yet unfinished, but I hope those who have connections with boats and the sea will understand its sentiments.

On the Sea

On the sea and sailing

A hero of the wave

The low-lying island on your stern

The Southern Minch to brave

Then wild and wide Atlantic

With sixty miles before

The thought of rest or anchor

By St Kilda’s towering shore.

With salt sea running in your veins

And passion in your heart

You conquered life with rugged drive

Where most would fall apart

The sea dealt many cruel blows

Brought death and drowning near

Each time it did, you didn’t break

Then growled and shrugged the fear.

The Firth of Clyde to Jura

The lonely Flannan light

The western side of Harris

You fished them day and night.

The Monach Isles, the Torrans

The Tiree overfalls

Intrepid was your spirit

To live the ocean’s call.

The Rising Sun from Grimsay

The faithful Harbour Maid

The Jersey Alice Robert,

The names will never fade.

From Killybegs Ros Nuala

The Mohar Maid of Clare

These boats were part of who you are

A man whose likes are rare.

A boat is more than planks of wood

Than keel and ribs and beams.

They carry aspiration

Ambition, love and dreams.

Your hand is on my shoulder

You’re always by my side

Your wisdom guides my voyage

Through worlds of wind and tide.

Your boats they sail the sea no more

But visions still are real.

I see them steaming by the shore

You’re standing at the wheel.

In tranquil sea you’re anchored

No rocks or fire or swell –

A still and peaceful harbour

A bay where all is well.